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The European Parliament voted 571-53 on Wednesday to advance a proposal to ban common single-use plastics across Europe, with the goal of reducing marine pollution. (Photo: vaidehi shah/Flickr/cc)

Despite Corporate Resistance, EU One Step Closer to Ban on the Single-Use Plastics Choking Planet and Harming Human Health

"The European Parliament has made history by voting to reduce single-use plastics and slash plastic pollution in our rivers and ocean."

Jessica Corbett

Environmentalists cautiously celebrated "a victory for our oceans, for the environment, and for future generations" on Wednesday as the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a proposal to outlaw the most common single-use plastic products across Europe.

"The European Parliament has made history by voting to reduce single-use plastics and slash plastic pollution in our rivers and ocean," responded Justine Maillot of Surfrider Foundation Europe, on behalf of Rethink Plastic, a coalition of environmental groups on the continent.

"Citizens across Europe want to see an end to plastic pollution," Maillot added. "It's now up to national governments to keep the ambition high, and resist corporate pressure to continue a throwaway culture."

MEPs voted 571-53—with 34 abstentions—to advance the proposal initially introduced in May. As BBC News reports, "The measure still has to clear some procedural hurdles, but is expected to go through." Negotiations among representatives from national governments, the European Parliament, and the European Commission to finalize the law could begin as early as November.

While campaigners have raised alarm about potential loopholes as well as covert lobbying by Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Danone, they welcomed the widespread support for the measure, which would ban single-use plastic cotton buds, straws, plates and cutlery, beverage stirrers, balloon sticks, oxo-degradable plastics, and expanded polystyrene food containers and cups across the EU by 2021.

Although the ban, unfortunately, will not extend to very light-weight single-use plastic bags, Greenpeace EU chemicals policy director Kevin Stairs said that with Wednesday's vote, "we're one step closer to protecting people and wildlife from the plastic that's choking our rivers and seas, turning up everywhere, from the Antarctic Ocean to the salt on our tables." 

Appearing on euronews ahead of the vote, Stairs discussed the threat that plastics pose not only to the world's waterways, but also human health. Earlier this week, a pilot study found, for the first time in documented history, microplastics in human waste.

Philipp Schwabl, who conducted the human stool study, presented his findings—which have not yet been peer reviewed or published—at a conference in Vienna on Tuesday and hopes to expand his research, according to National Geographic. Recent studies have increasingly heightened concerns about the impact of plastics on the planet and all species that inhabit it.

Plastic pollution has become "one of our planet's greatest environmental challenges," declared a United Nations report released in June. "Our oceans have been used as a dumping ground, choking marine life and transforming some marine areas into a plastic soup. In cities around the world, plastic waste clogsdrains, causing floods and breeding disease. Consumed by livestock, it also finds its way into the food chain."

In addition to banning some of the most common single-use plastics, which make up more than 70 percent of marine litter, the EU measure also aims to set national reduction targets for non-banned plastics, cigarette butts, and lost or abandoned fishing gear.

"Today's vote paves the way to a forthcoming and ambitious directive," said MEP Frédérique Ries, the Belgian politican who drafted the approved EU plans. "It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at 22 billion euros by 2030."

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